Griffith ingenuity leads to engineering acclaim

Mr Ian Underhill, recipient of Engineers Australia's Sir William Hudson Award
Mr Ian Underhill, recipient of Engineers Australia's Sir William Hudson Award

Expertise from within Griffith University’s School of Engineering has helped secure Engineers Australia’s highest honour, the Sir William Hudson Award for Engineering Excellence.

Mr Ian Underhill is the Senior Technical Officer in the School of Engineering and, with Flinders University’s Professor John Arkwright and a team from the CSIRO and Flinders Medical Centre, helped develop a revolutionary fibre optic catheter being described by clinical experts as “the Hubble Telescope of Gastroenterology”.

Presented at the 2014 Australian Engineering Excellence Awards (AEEA), the Sir William Hudson Award is inspired by the first Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and is acclaimed by engineers around the world.

Fibre Optic Manometry: A 21st Century Approach to In-Vivo Diagnostics combines advanced fibre optic technology, engineering, software design and clinical excellence for a unique instrument that monitors muscular activity deep within the human body. Engineers Australia (EA) noted that the detail generated by the device is dramatically better than that available with traditional technologies.

Initially developed in 2008 during Professor Arkwright’s time at the CSIRO, the fibre optic catheter has advanced from technical curiosity to an in-demand clinical instrument. EA chose it above nominees including the Adelaide Oval redevelopment project and a digital over-the-horizon radar system to win the peak national engineering prize.

“I was at the CSIRO with Professor Arkwright when the concept involved an oesophageal sensor to help diagnoses for people with swallowing issues,” Mr Underhill said.

“However, once the project shifted to colonic applications, the results revealed an extent and accuracy of information that was not available before. This allowed for more precise diagnoses and more efficient surgery.”

The Sir William Hudson Award is the latest major honour bestowed on the Fibre Optic Manometry team.

In September at the Sydney division of AEEA, the team took first place in the Welfare, Health and Safety and Innovations and Inventions categories, before winning the most prestigious accolade — the Bradfield Award.

Mr Underhill said the Sir William Hudson Award reflected the quality of research and outcomes within Griffith’s School of Engineering.

Pro Vice Chancellor (Griffith Sciences) Professor Debra Henly congratulated Mr Underhill and the project team, saying the Sir William Hudson Award was a tremendous achievement.

“Ian was the mechanical engineer on the project team and his work was crucial to the success of a project that is a significant and positive development for engineering and medical science,” Professor Henly said.